Carla Burns, recurring guest on The Hate Napkin podcast, sits down with Arik Bjorn to discuss his upcoming book, UBER NIGHTS.
CARLA BURNS: Well, I guess the first thing is the obligatory: tell us what Uber Nights is about.
ARIK BJORN: I’d say about 220 pages.
AB: Sorry. Uber Nights is about my late-night rideshare misadventures in the Deep South. Columbia, South Carolina. In the armpit of the South, you never know if your next passenger will be a naked lady with a toothbrush, a banana spider, or a punch-drunk redneck. Is this also where I…?
AB: Uber Nights will be released August 15 on Amazon!
CB: Good boy. What made you decide to become an Uber driver?
AB: During the early months of Covid quarantine, I was holed up in a three-bedroom apartment with my middle school daughter and elderly mom. I love them both to death, but I suddenly needed to spend several hours a night being crammed in a Kia Sorento with perfect strangers rather than listen to the two ladies in my house bicker about their shared bathroom.
Also, I had just finished my eighth book—and had spent 20 years writing every night for three to four hours. Something like 30,000 hours devoted to the craft. I was as tired of the keyboard as it was of me. We needed a break from each other. I’m glad I took it!
CB: In your wildest dreams, did you ever expect the kind of experiences you’ve had in the last few years?
AB: Well, I once spent several months running around the Middle East in jelly shoes—and somehow managed not to be arrested. Oh, I almost forgot about the night I hung out with Ben Kingsley in Tel Aviv and woke up naked on the beach. True story!
I also pulled the fire alarm in The Louvre so I could spend 20 minutes alone with the Mona Lisa. Then there was that cabbie in Istanbul—the book is dedicated to him. So, um, yeah, I was prepared for Ubering in South Carolina.
CB: What was your scariest moment driving an Uber?
AB: I picked up two gangster brothers at a strip club. I could instantly sense they were Trouble with a capital “T.” They were invading my personal space in the driver’s seat almost instantly. And I knew it was only going to get worse. So I pulled into a gas station and told them to slowly exit the car, not to slam the door—otherwise I would blow their brains out.
Which is a total lie. I don’t carry a gun. But in my trunk, there’s a heavy oak table leg with four-inch screws coming out the end. It’s such a crazy weapon that just pulling it out usually settles any problem immediately.
CB: What passenger most restored your faith in humanity?
AB: Definitely The Amazon Philosopher.
CB: What is the most frustrating thing about being an Uber driver?
AB: Only ten percent of passengers tip. And this runs across all demographic categories. South Carolinians are the most tight-wadded people in the world. Jesus, people. TIP YOUR DRIVERS!
CB: Why is it you think people don’t tip Uber drivers, or is it just you they don’t tip?
AB: I mean, I put on deodorant before each shift. Do you think I should start wearing pants? Maybe it’s me.
CB: Ya think? Does it sometimes feel like you’re in an episode of The Twilight Zone meets Taxicab Confessions?
AB: There is something about being in a dark vehicle with a total stranger. It has a very confessional box quality to it. Also, people seem to sense almost immediately that they can trust me. The next thing you know, I’m pulling out the Kleenex.
But this has always happened to me. I used to manage a billion-dollar program for the state of South Carolina. All the time, politicians, big business folks, they would just start confessing things to me. I know where all the bodies are buried in this state.
CB: What do you believe is the best quality for an Uber driver to have?
AB: Bulging forearms and an iron bladder.
CB: Would you rather: deliver a drunk to his or her destination safely; deliver a group of sorority girls to a club; or deliver a carload of old women to a male strip club?
AB: Honestly, I enjoy picking up folks at the end of a midnight shift from a nursing home or gas station. People with dirty fingernails, spent, whose brains aren’t glued to devices, who just want to shoot the shit for 15 minutes. I’m their chance to unwind. And I enjoy their perspective on the day, on life. But a carload of tipsy buxom young women, well, it does put a little pep in the foot pedal. That’s when I usually go into karaoke mode—we have fun in the Maroon Rocinante!
CB: What quality do you have that has uniquely qualified you to survive your Uber driver experiences thus far?
AB: I’m here as an undercover writer. The goal from day one was to refill on human situations and dialogue. I’m a self-situated sponge.
CB: Will there be an Uber Nights Part Deux?
AB: I’m hoping Uber Nights is so successful that I can afford to move to Amsterdam and start driving canal taxis. Uber Nights: Red Light District. I’d settle for Uber Nights Vegas, I guess.
CB: Anything else readers should know?
AB: Honestly, I think Uber Nights is the perfect bathroom book. If there are any public libraries out there listening, I think they should put a copy in every stall.
Also, I think I should clarify. We no longer live in an apartment. Last year, I bought a house on a pond. We have ducks, great blue herons, muskrats, deer, even a river otter. And sunflowers that reach to the heavens. It’s really quite lovely.
Uber Nights will be released on August 15. Search ARIK BJORN or UBER NIGHTS on Amazon.
Carla Burns, a local icon of her native Burnt Corn, Alabama, is the former manager of the local Dairy Queen and is recently retired as the editor-In-chief of the Burn Corn Register & Tribune. Her thoughts on retirement: “Hard to believe I left the glamorous world of Ice Cream Cakes, Dilly Bars, and Letters to the Editor from local residents complaining about why the City Fathers aren’t doing more to control the wild hog population.” Carla is currently the permanent center square of the podcast, THE HATE NAPKIN.